Short Take: The Change Du Jour: 52 States

None of these were problems in 2008 or 2012, but they sure are now. The electoral college has to go. The First Amendment needs to be changed to prohibit hate speech. The Supreme Court needs term limits or, in the alternative, to be packed with the right sort of justices. And now we need two new states.

The biggest racial preferences in this country have nothing to do with college admissions or job offers. They have to do with political power. And they benefit white Americans, at the expense of black, Asian and Hispanic Americans.

There are many arguments, problems, that could follow this paragraph. Gerrymandering to deny predominantly black areas the ability to elect a representative of their choosing. Voter suppression to reduce the number of minority voters. Felon disenfranchisement, which coordinates with the disproportionate focus on minorities to deny them the right to vote. But that’s not what follows.

First, the states whose populations have grown the most over time, like California, Texas, Florida and New York, are racially diverse. By contrast, the smallest states, like Wyoming, Vermont, the Dakotas and Maine, tend to be overwhelmingly white. The Senate, as a result, gives far more special treatment to whites than it once did.

The second reason is even more frustrating, but it would also be easier to fix. Right now, about four million American citizens have almost no congressional voting power, not even the diluted power of Californians or Texans. Of these four million people — these citizens denied representative democracy — more than 90 percent are black or Hispanic.

David Leonhardt’s solution? Make Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico states.

They are, of course, the residents of Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Almost half of Washington’s residents are black, and nearly all of Puerto Rico’s are Hispanic.

The proposition is neither new nor much of a stretch. It’s rather surprising that there are substantial parts of the United States denied representation, as well as the less pleasant duties that come with it. But the reason here raises a very different issue than before, as Leonhardt does some math.

The Senate gives the average black American only 75 percent as much representation as the average white American. The average Asian-American has 72 percent as much representation as a white person. And the average Hispanic American? Only 55 percent as much. That’s right — the structure of the United States Senate treats a Hispanic citizen as only about half as important as a white citizen.

The rationale for this calculus is that we have small “white” states, each with two senators, and huge diverse states, also with two senators. And, he argues, that the reason we’ve been slow to let D.C. and P.R. enjoy the representation they deserve is that it would dilute white power.

If you think about the four youngest states — Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska and Hawaii — you may notice a pattern. Like Puerto Rico and Washington, they are home to a lot of nonwhite people, which is not a coincidence. This country has historically been slow to grant full enfranchisement to people with darker skin.

As Leonhardt points out, there’s no guarantee that D.C. and/or P.R. if made states, would vote for one party or the other. They may not support the Democrats, so any complaint that this is just a ploy to shift power to the party out of power isn’t fair. And indeed, that’s certainly true, even if it might be reasonable to argue, at least for the moment, that there is reason to assume they would favor the Democrats rather than the Republicans.

There are numerous sound reasons to contend that both Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico should have representation in Congress. And there are reasons to suggest that a few of the other states have grown too large, too populous, too divided, to similarly be denied the opportunity to have voices that best reflect their views.

But is race, alone, a reason to create two new states? Rather than aiming at a nation where discrimination is eradicated, this is directed to establishing race as a permanent feature of politics. How could that possibly go wrong?


17 thoughts on “Short Take: The Change Du Jour: 52 States

  1. Dan

    “this is directed to establishing race as a permanent feature of politics.”

    I don’t think so, as I don’t believe there’s that much principle behind it. Just like the calls to abolish the electoral college and go to a national popular vote, or to institute term limits for the Supreme Court, it’s purely (and short-sightedly) a matter of partisan politics. Those on the left who are arguing for this are doing so solely because they believe it will increase their political power.

    1. SHG Post author

      Assuming, as some might consider obvious, that this is transitory partisanship, how would it play out in the long term if we were to establish race as a justification for statehood and political representation? Would urban enclaves get to be their own states if the minority concentration was sufficient?

      1. John Barleycorn

        Isn’t it about time you stopped suppressing your Funky Federalist Fetishes esteemed one, and just roll out your Fancy Wrap Federalist Lollipop line?

  2. Nigel Declan

    Like Texas and California secession, the ascension to statehood of D.C. and Puerto Rico are longstanding ideas with nominal popularity that the activists du jour will seize upon when it serves their interests. They could give a flying fig about the merits of these ideas other than as a means to pursue their own noble goals (or to thwart their adversaries’ nefarious ones).

    Once it becomes clear that these plans won’t succeed or the winds of outrage simply shift their attention elsewhere, these activists will leave as quickly as they came. This too shall pass.

  3. Jim Tyre

    Don’t stop at 52. But for the intervention of the California Supreme Court, we’d be voting next month on a proposition aimed at splitting California into three states. Legal challenges are pending, so that proposition may be back two years from now. If California splits into three, shouldn’t Texas split into at least two? And surely New York should be split, just on principle. Before you know it, we could have 60 states, or more.

  4. LarryArnold

    What’s so special about Puerto Rico? Why not admit the other territories: American Samoa; Bajo Nuevo Bank; Baker Island; Howland Island; Guam; Jarvis Island; Johnston Atoll; Kingman Reef; Midway Islands; Navassa Island; Northern Mariana Islands; Palmyra Atoll; Serranilla Bank; U.S. Virgin Islands; and Wake Island.
    They have minority populations as well. Most of them are Navy.

  5. Paul

    I think this guy’s head would explode if someone told him you can be both white and Hispanic (as many Puerto Rican people tend to be). But hey he is already buying that colors equal race (which is or is not a social construct depending on who you talk to) so I’m guessing he is well versed in mental gymnastics.

  6. Ayoy

    “First, the states whose populations have grown the most over time, like California, Texas, Florida and New York, are racially diverse.”

    Should really read “*have become more* racially diverse”.

    To frame the changing racial demographics of those states as evidence of ”
    racial preference” that “benefits white Americans” seems a little disingenuous, even for an opinion piece in the failing NYT.

  7. Joseph Masters

    Never answer a question with more questions but: what are the conditions for granting statehood in the 21st century? Put it another way–are there ANY conditions that stimulate granting U.S. statehood any longer? Congress admitted states in every decade between 1787 and 1912, but we are now amidst a 59-year dry spell. Were Alaska and Hawaii outliers; perhaps their importance during the Cold War and WWII required statehood in 1959?

    If Puerto Rico and D.C. were admitted in accordance with 2010 census figures, would the House add five districts in line with reapportionment or only two as was the case in 1959-60? Which states would lose more districts in the 2020 reapportionment to accomodate State 51 and 52, as the U.S. refuses to raise the district permanent authorization above 435 (a decision made when Congress simply refused to conduct a reapportionment using the 1920 census, sticking us with the 1910 figure forever).

    Why even bother responding to another proposal to admit additional states into the union? Is there ANY possibility that the House would agree to admit a 51st, 52nd, 53rd, etc. state when the likely outcome would reduce representation in the existing 50 states? Isn’t this asking Representatives to vote to potentially eliminate his or her own job?

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s unlikely anyone takes this seriously, but that wasn’t the point. It’s a laundry list of “fixes” to the basic functioning of our govt because things didn’t turn out the way the “majority” woke thought they would. It can’t be them, so the govt must be broken.

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